May 26, 2024

A bigger whiteboard, please

I used to get headaches studying the genealogies
of the royal houses of Europe. Just the House
of Windsor
, which stretches back only to George V, is tangled enough. However,
to understand the relationships even of ordinary families nowadays you need a
very large whiteboard and felt pens with several different colours.

The New
York Times
recently ran a short but intriguing feature about contemporary genealogy.
Take, for instance, the women and children associated with Rob Okun, a
61-year-old magazine editor in Massachusetts. Rob was married to someone for a
while and had two children with her. Then he acted as a sperm donor for a
lesbian couple whose children he knows, even if he is not involved in rearing
them. Then he married again and has two step-daughters.

How does one describe these relationships?
Cousins, step-siblings, adopted siblings, half-siblings seem inadequate to
describe the shades of biological and social relationships which multiply as
families fracture and reform. And, as the Times points out, family trees become
more than a theoretical exercise when the time comes to sort out inheritance

Perhaps we need to borrow kinship
terminology from obscure tribes in the Caucasus or the Amazon to make sense of
our family identity. The recent legalisation of same-sex marriage in New York will
no doubt help to accelerate the need for new types of family trees.  

What do you think? Any creative insights?